Category Archives: Life On The Ranch

World’s Shortest Roads?

As Garrison Keilor was fond of saying on Prairie Home Companion, “it’s been a slow week” at the ranch, but then most weeks blissfully are. Recently we had concrete poured in two places at Hidden Falls Ranch. One wag on seeing the results of our concrete work harrumphed, “Looks to me like you have built two of the world’s shortest roads!”

Admittedly the concrete slabs measure only 36 and 55 feet in length, much too short certainly to qualify for roads. If you look carefully though you may be able to determine that these are really low water crossings.

World’s shortest road? No, actually a new low water crossing at Hidden Falls Ranch- Photos by Ramsey Hutton

 

 

   One of the slabs is where the outflow from our spring-fed stock tank (pond to those non-Texans reading this), and the other concrete slab allows traffic to pass unhindered over Sugar Creek. These low water crossings remain treacherous though if a flash flood occurs.

Generally these areas though are dry and easy to cross. Nevertheless, during a rainy spell, both can become muddy quagmires. Previously I’ve become stuck even when driving my four-wheel drive pickup or our John Deere utility vehicle. Thank goodness for a tractor and ranch hand to extract me from the muck.

Two 12-inch aluminum pipes traverse the concrete slab at Sugar Creek. This allows the water to flow under the slab and for the dogs and me to keep our paws (feet) dry.

Hopefully our efforts will prevent getting stuck in the mud and provide improvements at this our newest addition to the Hutton ranch.

Announcement- Photographer Ramsey Hutton Joins Blog

Ramsey Hutton- Ace Cub Photographer

Ramsey Hutton is now the official photographer for Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch. Yes, in case you’re wondering, Ramsey is my granddaughter and has a personal connection and warm feelings for our family ranch and its animals. She began coming to the ranch as an infant. She’s ridden through its pastures on her horse, Fancy, celebrated her birthday with friends, explored the hills, and enjoyed the scenic beauty of the Texas Hill Country. Ramsey is one with the ranch.

She assumes her role immediately and will, no doubt, improve my earlier attempts to visually represent that about which I write. Her Uncle Paul Plunket provided her camera and its a vast upgrade from her previous one.

Please welcome Ramsey to this blog. Her photographic skills should enhance the experiences for readers of Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch and my Facebook page.

Incidentally Ramsey Hutton has started her own blog. It’s entitled Ramsey’s Reality and is really quite good. Check it out!

Come visit me at Ramsey’s Reality as well as at Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch

Wolves Beat Dogs in Teamwork Test

A video in the NY Times from Wednesday, November 8, 2017 got me thinking. The video produced by James Gorman made the provocative statement that wolves may be smarter than dogs. Could this be true?  More precisely the video claims wolves are smarter than dogs at learning the rope pull test. This task is where two animals of the same species have to work cooperatively to achieve success.

The rope pull test is commonly used test to determine cooperativeness among two animals and to compare among various species. The test consists of a tray around six feet long or so that has two tasty treats in plain sight but unavailable behind a screen. The two animals must simultaneously pull on a rope, at the ends of the slide, thus pulling out the sliding tray amd making the two treats available for consumption. As it turns out wolves learn this task quickly and work cooperatively. Dogs not so much. Other species able to perform the task include elephants, parrots, monkeys, and rooks (black birds). Dogs truly struggle with this task but can eventually learn it.

The explanation provided for dogs’ slowness to learn is that they are not used to working cooperatively with other dogs. Yes, dogs work with humans exceptionally well, such as with bomb sniffing, herding sheep, riding surfboards and skateboards, protecting homes, and sniffing out corpses in forensic investigations. But these are activities dogs do with humans, not in cooperation with other dogs.

Bella on the left and Little Jack on the right

 

Wolves, on the other hand, don’t work with humans but work with members of their pack for survival. If you think about it, this all makes pretty good sense, . Adaptability is after all important for survival. Dogs must adapt to their human companions and make them happy while wolves must adapt to their  pack and become successful hunters.

But this video in the NY Times got me wondering. Are my dogs capable of working together? If so, what can they do cooperatively with each other? I have shared over the years in this blog many examples of my dogs working with me to herd cattle. But this is a task they do in combination with me who is directing them to some extent (at least that is my illusion as de facto leader).

It didn’t take me long to find an example of my dogs cooperating with another dog. Not long after viewing the video I saw Bella, my female Border collie, and Little Jack, our “Texas brown dog” take off on a spontaneous hunting mission. You see, Jack is determined to save the world from what he must see as the scourge of armadillos and squirrels. Just moments before he had spotted an armadillo. After quite a chase, the dogs caught the armadillo. Jack tried to kill it on his own but the armadillo was too strong and pulled out of his bite. Jack held onto the tail of the armadillo and proceeded to ski behind the powerful animal, dragging Jack toward its burrow.

Bella then swooped in went after its head, trying to kill it. Together they managed a successful hunt that neither one of them alone could have pulled off. This hunting duo has killed at least four or five armadillos recently, making them highly effective hunters so long as they work cooperatively. Incidentally they act incredibly proud of themselves, showing extreme excitement and rapid panting after returning from a prolonged absence in which it becomes obvious had been a hunt.

This strikes me quite clearly as cooperation in my dogs. But is it not the only example. I’ve taken to going for a walk for my health most afternoons around 4:00. Not too surprisingly at around this time when usually working at my computer, two dogs will show up at my desk. It can be any two of them.  In tandem they will nose, scratch, whine, and otherwise manipulate me out of my chair. I am then herded unceremoniously toward the door and made available for their afternoon walk.

I have a theory as to why two come at me at a time.  When previously just one dog took on this task, I assumed he/she just needed to go outside to pee and I would promptly put the dog outdoors. They quickly learned a single dog strategy was ineffective.

Well there are two examples of my dogs working cooperatively with one another. There are others I will share in a later blog piece. Please dear readers share your examples. I plan a follow up piece and may be able to share your experiences with other blog readers. Let me hear from you!

What’s Happening At The Ranch

We have a new bull at the ranch. Meet Baron.

Baron Bull

Welcome Baron Bull

Every six years or so we retire our bull and bring in a a younger, harder working one.

I’ve come up with the name Baron Bull for him. This is easier to recall than his name from the American International Charolais Association which is MR 4M Freedom 185M.

Last week our waiting Black Baldy cows welcomed him to the ranch and he has fit in well. We can expect hybrid vigor with the Black Baldy and Charolais cross.

Baron as a name seems appropriate as Baron’s Creek that runs through Fredericksburg and was named after Baron von Meusebach, the founder of Fredericksburg. Also our new bull is out of the Behrend’s (pronounced the same as baron) line of Charolais , so it all seems to fit the big guy.

Trudy and I were mulling over his warm reception by our cows. Given the age difference with the bull being two years old and our cows being two to eight years older than Baron, Trudy and I wondered if we had “Cougar Cows.” But those are ruminations for a later time and after several glasses of wine.

The features most important to me in selecting a new bull are a gentle disposition, good conformation, and fertility. Baron possesses all three. Being gentle is a must as my grandchildren spend time on the ranch, and I am not nearly as swift of foot as I used to be. I checked his gentleness before purchasing him by walking close by him in a pen.  He made no aggressive moves and his prior owner spoke highly of his gentleness. Tick.

Good confirmation is important as we want his offspring to be thick and well conformed as they will sell better. He is muscular, has a straight back, and thick torso. Tick.

Good fertility is a must as the entire crop of calves will depend on it. Baron has been checked twice and found ready to breed. Tick. Results in nine and a half months and more of course will be of greater significance.

He is smaller than our last bull but likely will grow over the next several years. He is thicker than our last bull. Baron already shows wanting to “work” more  than did our old bull who was becoming rather indifferent. As an aside one wonders why it is referred to as “work” but such is the unusual nature of ranching vernacular.

So welcome Baron bull to the Hutton ranch. May your days be long and highly productive.

Guess What We Found On Leaving Our Ranch Recently?

The other morning Trudy and I spotted something unrecognizable on the cattle guard at the edge of our ranch. Approaching closer I could tell it was a newborn calf, actually a Longhorn/Charolais cross. The poor little heifer had all four legs stuck between the pipes of the cattle guard and was totally helpless as she lay across the pipes.

The calf a week later doing well in the pasture

One surprising thing about a Longhorn calf is how quickly they stand up as opposed to other types of calves. This little heifer apparently stood up while its mother was down pasture grazing, wandered to a nearby cattle guard, and slipped and had ts legs plunge through it.

Trudy and I jumped out of the car and working together pulled the calf’s legs out from between the bars and carried it to the nearby grass. There we stood it up and encouraged it to move down the pasture to where its mother grazed. She saw us coming and raced to her calf. When last we saw the calf, it was chowing down at the milk bar.

The proud mother with calf by her side

The proud daddy, a Charolais bull

The calf has done well ever since. Let’s just hope it has good one trial learning when it comes to why cattle guards  are there in the first place. I did notice a few days later when we vaccinated her for blackleg that she didn’t seem at all afraid of me. Might she have been appreciative or at least remember me? I’ll never know. Turned out to be a pretty good excuse, though, as to why we were running late for Sunday School.

At The End Of The Road

 

You might recall the stray dog that wandered onto our ranch several years ago that we named Little Jack Kerouac. We named him after the author of the same name who wrote On The Road and who was the forerunner of a beatnik. Our Little Jack had been wandering the county roads of Gillespie County for months and had traveled many miles when the skinny pup was finally herded into a corner of our yard by our Border collies. The small brown dog was half-starved and intensely fearful. His fear, nevertheless, relented before a succulent piece of fried chicken, prompting the little brown dog to climb into my arms.

Despite his bad condition from his long tenure as a road dog, it became apparent that he had been neutered and house broken. These aspects suggested at one time Jack had enjoyed a close relationship with a human friend.

Yours truly ready to work on the ranch with assistants Jack and Bella.

We still don’t know what all he encountered as a road dog and Jack isn’t talking. We suspect he must have scrounged whatever he could find to eat including roadkill. We know Jack is a canny survivor.

His breeding has proved an ongoing mystery. When asked what breed he is, we finally gave up guessing and simply began replying, “He’s a Texas Brown Dog.”

Since Jack’s arrival, let’s just say… he’s matured and settled in well. He has adapted to his new home on a hill at the end of his very long road.

Sometime ago I wrote several blog pieces on Jack stealthily loading himself into various vehicles and stowing away for rides. We do not think he was trying to escape his adopted home but that he merely wanted to go for rides. Fortunately, after a few bad moments of being unable to locate Little Jack, we were able to place phone calls and have him returned.

Jack is no longer the skinny road dog he once was. He has, in fact, chunked up. He still loves to go on ranch walks, run errands and ride in the pickup. Whereas the Borders ride in the bed of the pickup, Little Jack proudly expects to sit on the console in the cab where, if hot, the AC is on and, if cold, the heater warms him. He likes his creature comforts.

When our Borders are let out of the pickup to exercise by running up the hill to the house, Jack preemptively jumps off the console and hides in the back seat. No silly running up the hill for Little Jack. Why get out of a perfectly good pickup and wear out my foot pads?

At night Jack has inched his way closer and closer to the head of the bed. Initially when he came into our lives he slept under the bed or on a nearby dog bed. He later transferred to the foot of the bed. Now Trudy and I find the little rascal snuggled between us, his head lying on a soft pillow. Imagine going from the hard life of a road dog to a pillow top mattress!

Jack likely thinks, “Heck with Pearl Buck’s ideas of a place in the sun, I have a soft mattress in an air conditioned home.” When asleep, he becomes an almost immovable lump. If Trudy or I get up in the middle of the night, he migrates to the vacated warm spot, claims it, and is difficult to dislodge.

It’s said every dog has its purpose. The purpose of our Border collies is clear, herding our cattle. Jack’s purpose has been harder to determine. Surprisingly, he sometimes has helped the Border collies with herding. But mainly Jack is a varmint dog and represents an absolute terror for squirrels and armadillos. This job of protecting the world from squirrels and armadillos, though, is not full time for our Little Jack.

Several years ago my mother came to live with us and it was then that we learned what Jack’s real job was–companionship. My elderly mother would sit on the couch for hours with Jack snuggled up against her, stroking his furry head. He returned her affection with gentle licks and made his belly available for endless scratching. Mom and Jack became thick as thieves, although we worried my Mom might rub Jack’s head bald.

“I think I can still feel the pea!”

My mother possessed a huge capacity to love, and in her final years she so enjoyed Jack’s companionship. Jack became a willing recipient for her love, and in turn he reciprocated his love for her. I’m convinced Jack made her final days much happier.

I suppose companionship is the major role for many dogs. Dogs have such an amazing ability to relate to humans, to sense their emotions, and to offer their unconditional love. It takes all kinds of dogs, but Jack has stolen our hearts and in their places left behind his paw prints.

May The Force Be With You

The well known statement from “Star Wars” that serves as the title for this piece has of late developed special meaning for me. Perhaps I am still under the emotional overhang of my father’s recent passing, but the ease by which he passed has meaning for me. Dad died at the age of 96-years peacefully and in his sleep. His force to live diminished in his final months to a point where he was no longer walking, then no longer chewing, and then even refusing to swallow liquid supplements. His life force slowly ebbed away.

Dad (John Howard Hutton) when his life force was strong

In juxtaposition with Dad’s dying process has been my observation of an unfortunate, recently born calf on our ranch. Now I am in no way equating the value of the two lives, only making a comparison of their life forces.

Newest bottle calf being fed by Trudy with his good-for-nothing, calf-stomping mother looking on

The calf was refused milk by his mother for reasons unknown. Not only that but she kicked the calf nearly to unconsciousness when he tried to nurse. Later the mother calf became spooked and backed up, stomping her calf. Frankly I thought she had killed it.

Nevertheless, the following morning the previous “calf carcass” took a full bottle of milk. What a surprise! He’s not developed normally but is still making slow progress. He has a left front leg injury, one of the several spots where his mother stepped on him. Our newest bottle calf refused to die and continues to gain weight and hobbles about to a limited degree. I sometimes have to provide extra lift for the calf for him to get onto his four wobbly legs. As he grows, this may become a serious problem.

Given his miraculous survival, we refer to him as Phoenix. He rose off the pasture where he was near death and now greets Trudy and me with his long eyelashes for which Madonna would be envious, lovely dark eyes, and enthusiastic sucking at the milk bottle that sustains his life.

Mythological Phoenix

He still is not guaranteed survival. It seems his legs are too weak at times to get him up or possibly too painful. His walking is unsteady and wobbly and Phoenix tends to fall on uneven ground.

Nevertheless, Phoenix possesses a strong life force. I suppose this has to do with his young age and strong survival instincts. Regarding my Father, I cannot help but believe that after 96-years and having lived a full life that his life force had diminished down to nothing.

Grandson Graham earlier today feeding a somewhat older Phoenix

I recall the answer my grandmother gave when I asked her as a child what it was like to get old. She said, “Tommy, you just get tired.” I think she was right. Increasing fatigue accompanies age and illness. In my experience as a physician, folks just kind of give up at some point and are ready to die. Age seems to have a lot to do with it.

In my recently published book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales I tell the story of a little girl with Reye’s Syndrome who by all accounts should have died. Despite an absolutely horrible prognosis she lived and thrived. I believe her young age had much to do with her survival. The force was with her.

To my readers, “May the force be with you,” by which I imply continued strong life forces and may you enjoy vital life in the years ahead.